WASHINGTON — Gov. Sarah Palin's friends and supporters in Alaska set up a legal expense fund Friday to help her pay more than $500,000 in legal bills racked up defending ethics complaints — including one she filed against herself when she was a Republican vice presidential candidate.
One of Palin's longtime friends, Kristan Cole, will serve as the trustee of the legal expense fund, which launched its website Friday morning.
The Alaska Fund Trust modeled itself after the legal expense funds of other well-known political figures, including former first lady and current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Sen. John Kerry and even former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens.
Cole said her group decided to start the fund to help Palin defend herself against what she described as "the onslaught of frivolous attacks against her."
"These baseless accusations are designed to inhibit her ability to focus on the issues Alaskans truly care about and force massive personal debt on her and her family," she said.
The trustees have capped donations to the fund at $150, Cole said, and the fund will disclose each quarter the names of all donors — something it does not have to do. Lobbyists, corporations, labor unions and non-U.S. citizens cannot donate to the fund.
Money raised by the expense fund will go to legal bills incurred by Palin, her family and her staff, Cole said. They picked a $150 cap, Cole said, because they wanted a lower amount that would "make it available to as many Alaskans as possible."
Although some of the complaints date before Sen. John McCain tapped Palin as his running mate, most were filed after Palin shot to national fame last fall as the Republican vice presidential candidate.
Palin owes more than a half-million dollars to an Anchorage law firm that has been defending her against the ethics complaints — which Palin herself said last month had become "political blood sport" allowing "only the independently wealthy or those willing to spend their income on legal fees" to serve in office.
Most appears to be owed to the Alaska law firm of Clapp, Peterson, Van Flein, Tiemessen and Thorsness. The firm defended her in the Troopergate controversy, which grew from her dismissal of the state's public safety commissioner.
The most recent ethics complaint against the governor came this week, from Sondra Tompkins of Anchorage, who describes herself as an advocate for children with disabilities and the mother of a special-needs child.
In her complaint, she says Palin abdicated her duties by attending out-of-state political events at a critical time — the end of the legislative session. Palin last week went to Indiana for two events, a Right to Life banquet and a breakfast for families with Down syndrome children. Her political action committee and the hosts of the events paid Palin's way, said Meghan Stapleton, who worked for the McCain-Palin campaign and now serves as a spokeswoman for the Palin family and the governor's political action committee.
Palin decided to permit the creation of the legal expense fund after one of her fans, Clayton Paslay, said he would use his own political group to help her. Paslay's organization, called Free American Citizens, was created to support his favorite causes and conservatives, including Palin and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Paslay said he decided to ask people to donate to his fund after hearing Fox News Channel host Bill O'Reilly make a pitch to viewers to help Palin pay her legal bills.
But Palin's own political action committee urged supporters to hold off on donations until her friends in Alaska could set up something that would funnel contributions directly to her lawyers.
"Governor Palin is truly humbled by the tremendous outpouring of support from her fellow Alaskans and the wonderful people across our great country," Stapleton said.
Also on Friday, Palin's political action committee, SarahPAC, officially ended its relationship with Campaign Solutions, a Virginia-based company headed by one of the pioneers in online campaign contributions, Becky Donatelli. The company handled online fundraising for the McCain-Palin campaign and had set up the online fundraising mechanism for SarahPAC. Donatelli also was involved in establishing Palin's online presence on social networking sites such as Facebook.
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